A League Of Ordinary Gentlemen

For those about to bowl, this film salutes you. A documentary that opens with a newspaper quote admitting that to embrace bowling is to "shrug off the pall of utter unhipness" knows exactly what it's up against. Christopher Browne's fun, surprisingly exciting film probably won't convert anyone convinced that bowling is something you do while downing fish...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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For those about to bowl, this film salutes you. A documentary that opens with a newspaper quote admitting that to embrace bowling is to "shrug off the pall of utter unhipness" knows exactly what it's up against. Christopher Browne's fun, surprisingly exciting film probably won't convert anyone convinced that bowling is something you do while downing fish sticks and beer. But it may teach them a newfound respect for the sport's champions: The gladiators of ancient Rome never entered the arena with more pride, passion or determination. After a brief description of bowling's extraordinary popularity during the post-World War II era, various pundits attempt to explain its decline during the '80s and '90s, a drop-off that finally led ABC Sports to pull the plug on 35 years of Professional Bowling Association coverage in 1997. Journalist Bernie Goldberg blames the snobby "media elites" who perpetuate a negative image of this resolutely working-class game — Peter and Bobby Farrelly's KINGPIN (1996) is Exhibit A — and contemporary impatience with any sport that doesn't move at lightning speed (an argument easily discounted by golf's phenomenal popularity). Cultural critic Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, blames the increasing privatization of leisure time; the community bowling night has been replaced by "Must-See TV." But if the PBA's new owners — three former Microsoft execs — and their aggressive new CEO, Steve Miller, have anything to say about it, all that is going to change. Miller hopes to burnish bowling's less-than-cool image by promoting PBA personalities as if they were professional wrestlers and by introducing stylistic elements designed to capture the attention of that hallowed demographic: the 18- to 35-year-old male. To monitor the success of this new PBA, Browne and his small crew hit the road and travel the long road to the 2003 PBA World Championships with a group of professional bowlers, including mild-mannered Walter Ray Williams Jr., down-and-out Wayne Webb and "bad boy" of bowling Pete Weber, who follows each strike with his signature "crotch chop." Not even Browne can help chuckling up his own sleeve — how can he, when one of the sport's most prized sponsors is Odor-Eaters? But there's more heart here than you might imagine, particularly when it comes to Webb. Having lost all his money to a wicked gambling problem and reduced to staging karaoke nights at bowling alleys, Webb comes close to tears when describing how much he's given to the sport and how little he has to show for it: Bowling is a cruel mistress indeed.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: For those about to bowl, this film salutes you. A documentary that opens with a newspaper quote admitting that to embrace bowling is to "shrug off the pall of utter unhipness" knows exactly what it's up against. Christopher Browne's fun, surprisingly excit… (more)

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